British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2005-09-10 10:26:27

Failed seal rescue - Bawdsey, Suffolk

I received a call from Faye Archell about 11.10am who asked if I could check out a young seal at East Lane, Bawdsey, which was laid on the shore panting. The same seal had apparently been reported to the RSPCA in the same place, by the same informant, the day before...

I gathered some kit together and set off with my wife Gwen and arrived about 11.35am, East Lane being only about 4 miles from home. After a short search we found the seal laid on a concrete ledge, below some boulders, some 2ft wide and 6-8ft above the sea; a vertical drop.

This area of the coast suffers severe erosion (some 10m over the last 7-8 yrs) and has had huge boulders tipped in an effort to slow the process. The ledge concerned was part of a WW2 pillbox which has slipped seaward.

The seal was indeed young – 6-8 wks(?) and clearly undernourished, laid on its belly and panting quickly. Unfortunately it was alert enough and did not like our presence. It rolled over and flopped into the sea.

It clearly did not want to be there and swam back towards the rocks. Due to their height and the pounding waves of the incoming tide it could not reach their safety. Also the current flowing North-South was preventing it, in its obviously weakened state, from reaching the shingle beach only some 20m away to the North.

The effort it was putting in to seek safety was taking its toll and when it rested it was pushed further along the current – Southbound. There would be no readily accessible shore for over a mile.

Our phone was dead so we could not raise any further assistance. We watched helplessly for the next hour or so as the seal got weaker and was carried about ¼ mile south, only some 4-5m off-shore. There, in a reasonably sheltered spot it remained for about 20 minutes, but still inaccessible.

We decided to return home, a) to make contact with Faye and b) in the hope that at high tide, another hour away, the seal would be able to make the rocks or be carried on the current to the shingle shore a mile away. We updated Faye and advised her we would return later which we did at about 6pm.

We went to the point of the last sighting and there was the seal no further than 20m from where we last saw it, still unreachable but only 4m off-shore, and clearly very much weaker. It was rolled over in the water with the wave motion and barely lifted its head.

It was impractical, and indeed dangerous to enter the water. With our now revived phone we spoke to both Faye and Bob Archell who said he would attend with the boat – but to launch would be a problem due to the boulders and the cliff being fenced off due to it crumbling. Bob’s ETA - 8pm.

The young seal was struggling and disappeared beneath the surface. It reappeared 2 or 3 minutes later. It did not move again save for being wafted by the waves. Time of death – about 6.20pm.

So very frustrating and saddening to be so near yet so helpless.

Tony Wooderson
Asst. Coordinator, Suffolk

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